Creating Bass Lines by Rhayn Jooste… This series of articles is in response to a question I had on twitter that I was not able to formulate an answer too in 140 letters: “How do you create your bass lines?” So what I am going to do in the next couple of months is step through some examples from the band I am in and some made up examples to highlight the processes I go through to achieve the bass lines I want or need, This is a personal approach and I suggest you use it as a starting point to find the method that works best for you.
The Road Map.
First thing I will do before anything else is sit down with the idea or track and chart (by chart, I mean by ear and in my mind) the chord changes, nailing the root notes. I will work out the key and and its associated scales and just play through it a couple of times until I am familiar with the harmonic territory and the structure. Eventually playing through it with crotchet root notes or maybe whole notes, the idea is to nail the changes – dead, whilst building up a familiarity with the landscape.
Memorize the Changes: If you have to write the chords down, do; however I have found I remember the changes better if I have worked them all out by ear. They stay fixed in my mind a lot firmer due to the amount of times I have had to listen to the track whilst working them out.
The Rhythm Section.
Working in close harmony with the drums and the drummer is essential. So next step for me is to start marking the main beats of the bass drum. Again due to repetition I have already subconsciously started to do this in the step above. Why? Well if you are playing whole notes on beat 1, you generally tend to listen closer to what happens around you after that, or at least you should be. My ideas all stem from listening in to the drum part closely during this phase. After that I start to try them out, to see what fits and what does not. Sometimes its obvious what I want or have to do, other times its takes repeated attempts slowly adjusting rhythms until it feels right.
Style and Mood: This is where getting a feel for the mood of a piece comes into play, also what style of music it is. If it’s straight ahead rock you are going to be playing some sort of moving bass line, if its funk a slap one etc. etc. Take as much time over playing through your ideas as you can here, recording them is a really good idea too. It is at this stage I also start to formulate ideas on timbre and tone i.e. What position on the fretboard and what octave will be suitable. However that’s down to personal taste and will vary from player to player.
Below is a run down on how I approached a ballad that was not written by me. The song and it’s structure had been formulated with no bass lines or drum parts.
Example One: As They Lay my Body Down
This is a ballad in the key of G minor and its all about the groove. If the rhythm section is not together it really effects the song and ruins the mood. It needs to be tight yet simple as the main locus of the song are the words. There is no space of histrionics.
I started with the above method and literally played through it with a backing track and then live at least a hundred times before I had the ideas cemented as to what I felt was good. Each section has a relaxing and a tightening up of the rhythms depending on what the vocals are doing. I have created pockets of space around the snare beat deliberately whilst catching the main bass drum rhythms in the verses – opting for a subtle use of staccato notes and tighter rhythms in the chorus. There are some idiosyncratic ear catching ideas that I have used to connect the sections: namely legato runs. The bass part flattens out rhythmically during the long guitar solo on the end and slowly starts adding back the syncopation and pulsating ideas building tension as the song approaches the ending.